RR Newsletter 2/20

Come Sort Trash with Us!

RSVP at bit.ly/sortwithRR

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 2.50.20 PM.png

And don't forget to bring your friends! Share this graphic on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Last time we sorted...

...The trash was composed largely of paper, rigid plastic, and organics. We found quite a few paper napkins, and a bunch of abandoned sushi.


The RR Team has been hard at work...

We're building an app!

In the very near future, Return Recycling's rad waste characterization process will be made easy and accessible to anyone interested in seeing what's in their school's trash!


If you're interested in using an app to characterize waste at your school, sign up for our App Network List here.  


We're hiring!

Do you or a friend have experience with programming or APIs? Check out our job posting for an App Development Intern on NYU's CareerNet, or email us directly at info@returnrecycling.com.   

We're fundraising!

Chip in and share the love to help us get up and running.

RR Newsletter 2/9



Surprise! We're Digging Through Trash. Again.

Last Friday, we had our very first Sorting Event of the year! We collected some insightful data on the waste being tossed in NYU's Silver Academic Center lounges that will be added to our data treasure trove of the past two years. This database serves as the first of many to come that can be used to investigate waste habits and flows at universities and beyond! To learn more, visit our website.

Here are some results from today's research:
If you've had a great time sorting before, or you missed us this time, join us for our next public sorting at NYU on Friday, February 24th!

And don't forget to tell your friends and acquaintances and strangers on the street about your experience too!
Many thanks to our sorting champions, as always! 
The RR team has been hard at work...
We're Building an App!
In the near future, Return Recycling's rad waste characterization process will be made easy and accessible for anyone and everyone interested in seeing what's in their school's trash.
Stay tuned, or ask us for more info!
We're Designing Bins V2.0!
Do you have electrical or computer engineering experience, or know a friend who does? Join our design team to craft the ultimate smart trash bin and put those killer skills to use. Hit us up if you're interested!
We're Fundraising!
Chip in and share the love to help us get up and running.

Why we spent the weekend at PLAN's Students for Zero Waste Conference

Aryn and I spent the weekend in Durham, NH at the Post Landfill Action Network’s Students for Zero Waste Conference. While we were there we met and bonded with other waste nerds like ourselves. Although we were there to host a workshop on “Students Starting Up” we learned more about the broad variety of concepts that are encompassed in the zero waste movement than we could have brought ourselves. It was truly a remarkable experience—and something I’d definitely recommend folks looking to learn more about campus zero-waste efforts go to next year. CHEERS to PLAN— we’re looking forward to #SZW2017 in Philadelphia!

Aryn Aiken and Davis Saltonstall at PLAN's Students For Zero Waste Conference #Don'tFeedthefill #sZW2016

Aryn Aiken and Davis Saltonstall at PLAN's Students For Zero Waste Conference #Don'tFeedthefill #sZW2016

For the past two years that I’ve attended the Students for Zero Waste Conference I have admired PLAN for their ability to successfully execute a conference that 1) doesn’t lose touch of radical roots in collective liberation theory and 2) broadly addresses so many different topics in zero waste that it inspires new action. I’ve left the conference, twice now, with a sensation of community and understanding in the fight against an “intentionally linear economic structure” that has emboldened me to pursue my work with greater fervor. And that’s special. I rarely get to talk to so many people that just “get” where I’m coming from in the work that I do.

Day to day, it’s often hard for me to talk to friends about zero-waste work because they get stuck on the superficial assumption that recycling is simply “good,” and that by extension, I’m changing the world somehow. Sure, recycling is generally considered a positive practice, but we should really stop there with the generality. Although I don’t mind being a resource for friends who just want to know whether or not their pizza box is recyclable-- honestly, I’m glad they’re asking— I rarely ever get asked the “why” questions that pulled me into the work in the first place. PLAN has always been able to capture that at their conference for me and I have really appreciated being able to dive into that space with like-minded friends.

PLAN understands that the work we do, digging through garbage, making a tireless effort to reduce the amount of resources that are needlessly destroyed, burned or buried—is an effort to restructure the linear flow of our material economy; that it is a challenge to business as usual, to capitalism itself; and that it’s a recognition of how harmful this philosophical concept of disposal has been to historically marginalized communities around the world.

Especially now, in the wake of our recent presidential election, I want to thank PLAN—again—for creating the space where I can feel that constructive and positive energy. It’s hard not to realize, when geeking out with a fellow conference-goer about the way we input our waste audit data into a spreadsheet, just how special a community was temporarily brought together for a weekend in New Hampshire.


Warming Up: Our First Sorting of the Fall!

Yesterday morning, a few members of our team got up bright and early to run through all the logistics of sorting through our trash for the first time this semester. We got together our bags, our bins, our scales, and our bagels (of course), and went to work!

We dug through three bags to make sure we worked out all the kinks of sorting (hidden spreadsheet glitches, brain cobwebs, etc.) and eased back into our good old trash habits. It felt real good to get back in the groove - I even missed smelling like garbage juice a little bit?

Though we didn’t go through our standard volume of waste, we did gather just a little bit of sample data to stretch our statistics muscles - just for fun, here’s what we found! (All statistics are by item.)

of all waste was diverted from landfill


of all waste was sorted accurately

Here's what the composition of all the waste looked like, by material type:


We’re trying out a couple new things this year. In addition to our usual materials, we’ve also added in “Cardboard” and “Textile” as potential material classifications, because they’re ultimately processed very differently from any of our other materials. Also, after proving that our bins and signage yield higher diversion and accuracy rates than typical NYU bins and signage, we’re choosing to focus on only the waste that’s going through our bins, and use our studies to, among many other functions, analyze specific elements of signage design and their impact on the waste streams.

After getting through some of the dirty work, we took a break to try our hand at some trash art! We’re pretty proud of what we created (obviously - please refer to the included images), and we’re hoping that we can work art making into every sorting that we do from here on out.

I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’re thrilled to get the sorting ball rolling again, and to get even more people involved and digging through trash this year! Our next sorting event is on Friday, November 18th, and it is open to the public - so if you like what we do and would like to try it out, keep an eye out here on the blog and on our social media accounts for more information!

Girl with a Gum Earring (Trash, 2016)

Girl with a Gum Earring (Trash, 2016)

I dunno, guys it's pretty accurate.


Tessa Rosenberry

Tessa is the Design & Communications Manager and Co-Founder of Return Recycling. She's a senior at NYU in environmental studies, also studying fine arts, cinema, and Spanish. Currently employed at NYU's Office of Sustainability, she has worked with the National Parks Service, GrowNYC and Sprout Up in environmental education and engagement. An aspiring banjo player, she also enjoys wandering, good humor, and snacks.

Just a bit of summer schoolin' on paper waste


"The amount of paper used in the United States in one day is shocking. Although not all of this paper is wasted, it is safe to say that some is. It is important for everybody to start thinking about how to reduce, re-use and recycle products. There are a variety of activities that everyonecan start doing to decrease the amount of wasted paper. Next time you are about to throw something away, ask yourself: Can this be recycled or re-used? 

This infographic was made by Esker and details the amount of paper used in the United States, daily."

NYU President's Service Award

Photo by Moonrose Cheng

Photo by Moonrose Cheng

Earlier this month Return Recycling was honored to receive an NYU President's Service Award. These awards go to individuals and organizations who have shown a commitment to community service and civic engagement on campus and in local communities. As a small group of students working to dig through trash once a week, sometimes it can be hard to see the bigger picture or that what we are doing matters. However, every day we get more data, it becomes more organized and our outreach grows in NYU community. It means so much that our university acknowledged our work and understands its value to our community. Trash matters! We're working to build a better system for universities everywhere, but that would mean nothing without your support. Thank you so much for being a part of Return Recycling in anyway, whether it be participating in a sorting "party", asking us questions about recycling, talking to us at the Earth Day street fair, or even liking a post. Organizations need people. Thank you for being our people. We're looking forward to big things this summer and we hope you will continue to follow us on our adventures in waste characterization.

A New Beginning for Bottles: Recycling Glass into Concrete

Next Thursday, January 21 at 6:00 there will be a panel discussion about a recent NYC pilot program in which post-consumer glass is recycled into concrete, hosted by the Urban Green Council (register here). 

According to Urban Green’s (cleverly titled) preview article, Sims Recycling Facility teamed up with Building Product Ecosystems (BPE) to figure out how to use the overabundance of post-consumer glass productively. Replacing the cement used in concrete - which is usually created with fly ash byproduct - with ground up glass presented itself as an excellent option. The recycled glass would minimize transportation costs and emissions, since it’s generated right here in New York, and would provide a more reliable supply for concrete producers. It even has a shorter average cure time than fly ash, according to BPE, making the production process more efficient overall.

These kinds of collaborative, material-based connections are vital in building towards a closed-loop system. Only 60% of all collected post-consumer glass is actually recycled in NYC - by reappropriating the remaining 40% back into production, we would tackle two problems at once! By getting creative with materials already in the production cycle, we have an opportunity to work towards a zero-waste system within the industrial sector.


Tessa Rosenberry

Tessa is the Design & Communications Manager and Co-Founder of Return Recycling. She's a senior at NYU in environmental studies, also studying fine arts, cinema, and Spanish. Currently employed at NYU's Office of Sustainability, she has worked with the National Parks Service, GrowNYC and Sprout Up in environmental education and engagement. An aspiring banjo player, she also enjoys wandering, good humor, and snacks.

Waka Waka

by Moonrose Cheng

About 4 years ago, I bought this product called the Waka Waka Power. And now I'm going to review it!

The Waka Waka Power is a solar charger that includes 2 ports: a USB and a micro USB. not only is it a charger, it's also a flashlight.

The flashlight can be turned on to various levels of brightness, from dim to very bright. I find the flashlight function to be quite useful. 

Because it has a stand, the flashlight can be used as a small lamp. So if you like to pretend you are camping and want to read a book, this is great for that purpose. It's also good for actual camping or walking at night. 

Now onto the charging function, you simply plug in the cord to your device and the charger and press a button to start the charging. You know it's charging by a blue light near the port. It's quite easy to use.

When it runs out, the blue light will not be lit. And to know how much charge the Waka Waka has, you press the button and on the top is an indicator with 4 lights. 4 lights means 100% full, 3 lights is about 75% or more, and so on. Again, super simple. 

As for the efficiency, it's not the greatest, as it is a small handheld device, about the size of an old iPod. Depending on the season and level of the Sun's intensity, it takes 3 or more days for a full charge. A full charge on the Waka Waka is usually a little less than full charge for an iPhone. A full charge for the flashlight use however is about several hours, depending on the level of brightness it's on. 

I usually just put it right up against my window and leave it there. When I find my phone is dying and I have to be on the go, I will bring it with me. However, I don't depend on it to charge my phone daily. 

Overall, I like this product for the novelty of a solar powered charger. It really is useful in certain situations, and I like how it doubles up as a flashlight. It's not very cheap, but it's cheaper than the other solar products out there, or at the time it was. 

Even after 4 years, it works perfectly the same as when I bought it!

One cool thing is that for every product they sell, they give one of their regular Waka Waka flashlights (no charging capability) to someone who lives in a destitute area without electricity or who need a lamp, like students.


Moonrose Cheng

Moonrose is a cognoscenti in almost everything. She likes to read, explore, and laugh, as the generic person does. She is also quite witty. Most people would describe Moonrose as unique and eccentric at times. She is oddly fascinated with dogs and obsessed with YouTube. Her other passions include being a nerd, specifically a science, technology, and eco-nerd, and pretending to be an expert. You should get to know her because someday she will succeed in life and it will be great.

Sustainable Pencils - Sprout

by Moonrose Cheng


I happened to come across this YouTube video talking about this really neat concept: pencils that turn into plants!

The idea is that once you sharpen a pencil into a stub, which can't be used anymore, you just plant it into a pot of soil. There are seeds in a capsule at the top of the pencil, replacing where an eraser would normally be. There are different types of seeds, like herbs, vegetables, and flowers in the capsules. Once you plant them into a pot, I suppose the capsule will biodegrade and allow the seeds to sprout. 

However, you could also reduce your pencil waste by using a mechanical pencil and buy packs of lead.

Wooden pencils without the metal cap and synthetic erasure are also biodegradable, since they are wooden. The only caution is the potential toxicity of the pencil's paint that might be a hazard to the environment.

But if you want the feel of a wooden pencil (with no paint) and some seeds, this product would be right up your aisle. Just remember to buy an eraser. 

Check out their website: http://sproutworld.com


Moonrose Cheng

Moonrose is a cognoscenti in almost everything. She likes to read, explore, and laugh, as the generic person does. She is also quite witty. Most people would describe Moonrose as unique and eccentric at times. She is oddly fascinated with dogs and obsessed with YouTube. Her other passions include being a nerd, specifically a science, technology, and eco-nerd, and pretending to be an expert. You should get to know her because someday she will succeed in life and it will be great.

Microbeads be Gone!

A bill to ban products which include microbeads in soaps has passed the house and the senate and is now awaiting signature from President Obama. Some states took it upon themselves to ban the products first in an effort to preserve local waterways. If signed into law the bill will require such products that include polyethylene and are washed down our bathroom drains be removed from store shelves by 2019.

For more about the fight against microbeads check out this article from the New York Times.

The Stories We Wear and the Story We Throw Away

by Aryn Aiken


In Robin Nagle’s talk at NYU The Wonder of Waste, mentioned in a previous post, Professor Nagle spoke on the alienable nature of trash. We separate ourselves from our trash because we want it to be invisible and anonymous. We don’t want the responsibility of disposing consciously and we don’t want the guilt of the trash that will take generations to “disappear.” Some objects in our lives are inalienable like family heirlooms and treasures. They are passed down but still in the family or still with someone you love. The idea of inalienable objects appears in Patagonia’s Worn Wear campaign that encourages and highlights their clothes being passed down through generations. Our trash will last as long as those items that Patagonia sells and/or we hold dear. The Worn Wear campaign promotes conscious consumption as purchasing things that will last for your lifetime and that of your children. However, there is a greater issue when it comes to conscious consumption of things we view of disposable, like packaging, plastic bottles, or even cell phones. If you have to buy something which has disposable packaging, make sure it’s recyclable and to recycle it. The Patagonia jacket that’s been in your family for 30 years carries the stories of everyone who has worn it and where they have been with it, but the trash you throw away everyday also tells a story and the trash we leave behind will show future generations how we live now.

What makes a Business “Sustainable?”

An Aggrandized Rant by Davis Saltonstall

What is it exactly that makes a business sustainable? Sustainability has been such a buzzword over the past several years that it’s hard to determine exactly what the term is supposed to mean. To an un-informed observer, the field of “sustainable” projects currently in progress is recognizably overwhelming. Cutting carbon emissions, reducing waste, increasing recycling, stewardship of resources, reduction in water usage, bio-fuels, nuclear energy, solar energy, wind energy, anything but nuclear energy, natural gas, banning fracking, corporate giving, community farming, urban greenspace… it’s all been characterized as some form of sustainable change—and the vast collection of ideas and projects is understandably confusing and sometimes contradictory. Objectively determining the sustainability of an organization is an incredibly difficult task that requires the introduction of open data and business accountability if it hopes to fully be achieved. 

In order to build an understanding for the true “sustainability” of actions that organizations undertake, it’s necessary first to define exactly what it is that we mean in using that term. Depending on the scope of our definition and whom it applies to, the “sustainability” of a business has a wide variety of interpretations. In it’s most basic sense, “sustainability” is characterized by the maintenance of an action at a certain rate or level. This definition creates an incredible clash between conservatives and progressives in its interpretation (in a philosophical sense, although this can probably be misconstrued and still preserve its understanding as a political statement) because it inherently questions the actions society at large wishes to maintain and relies heavily on the future that people envision. Do we continue the same? Or do we change? If we must change, what shouldwe change? It’s hard to say whether there is such a thing as objective (or data driven) sustainability because of these clashing perspectives. There are a number of academics, for example, that have raised concerns about the sustainability of business operations in general; many suggesting that businesses cannot be sustainable because it is inherently expansive and extractive despite the finite resources the planet provides.  If such is the case, the discussion on “business sustainability” morphs from a list of characteristic descriptions of businesses, to a fundamental reorganization of business development principles. We must then talk less about the commitments that individual businesses are making, and consider instead how the whole of business operations within the global economy have shifted to incorporate a more “sustainable” vision for the future based on the actions individual firms (think game theory). That is perhaps the broadest aspect of “sustainable business” that we can observe and discuss; however, it’s clear that there are number of other aspects of sustainability that are readily considered when building the term within a business-framed construct. 

“Sustainability,” can be broken down into a variety of different components (and biases) that make it even more difficult to track within individual businesses. Depending on an individual’s interest or an organization’s priorities, whether they are environmental, social, or economic, “sustainability” takes a variety of different forms. “Sustainability” has been most prominently been attached to environmental terminology. It is associated with “sustainably managed forests” and “carbon footprint analysis.” But “sustainability” can also refer to the pursuit of Justice, fair labor practices, and other social pursuits. Additionally, it can simultaneously be used as justification for budget slashing, anti-union policy, and other measures of fiscal austerity. Different socio-political spheres interpret “sustainability” based on their own ideologies and constructions around the mechanics and priorities of human existence. Depending on whom you speak to, “sustainability” depends on the balance we create between “our environment,” “our social fabric,” and “our economic systems,” and the priorities we develop within that intricate system. Perhaps I’m over-explaining, but it’s important to note how variable our perceptions of “sustainability” are to a sway in public opinion, particularly because businesses have an incredible ability to shift those ideas through the dissemination of media. 

Businesses, to some respect, can control the public’s perception of their own “sustainability” by creating a lopsided representation of their operations by releasing limited information on negative, “unpopular” aspects of their organization and over-publicizing aspects of their operations that the public is in favor of. In such respects, “sustainability” is more appropriately defined as a keen marketing program—and self-explained within the business through a sort of self-sustaining logic akin to the larger framework of “sustainability” that the public embraces. For instance, BP might defend their image (and retains profits) by displaying pictures of wind-turbines on their homepage or rename themselves “Beyond Petroleum,” while simultaneously explaining the reliance that global infrastructure has on the energy they produce (oil and gas). Their choice to release this information, rather than publishing a complete report on the extensive extraction they pursue through offshore drilling (remember Deepwater Horizon? AKA: the BP Oil Spill) shapes public awareness and response to the actions that they make on a daily basis. The same sort of game is played by “sustainability” activists as well. Organizations and individuals select information to communicate based on our desired goals and outcomes. 

If there were such a thing as “objective sustainability,” it would require the release of comprehensive business operations across all sectors in order to be considered a real sort of development. When we return back to the original definition I first outlined, and assume that sustainability is characterized by the maintenance of an action at a certain rate or level; we can objectively delineate “sustainability” as a balance of stock and flow values. Environmentally, that means calculating limits to resources and establishing the natural rate of replenishment against our rate of extraction; socially, that means determining the needs of a growing society and how they are hampered by existing forms of suppression; and economically, that means recognizing the limits within which our economies fluctuate and how financial flows expand and contract according to various operations. This kind of objective evaluation of “sustainability” takes a significant amount of math; it’s the result of blended micro and macro economic analysis, incorporation of externalized social and environmental costs, and unprecedented investment in sciences that are capable of mapping intricate connections between different flows through the bio-social continuum. The answer is in open data. 

A business, in this framework of analysis with widely accessible open data, cannot be “sustainable” without first admitting to itself the intimate relationship that it has with the community where it exists. And that all of the choices it makes on a daily basis have a number of different effects within the social, environmental, and economic spheres. And in order to prevent this admission from being socialized as any “one thing in particular,” those relationships need to be mapped within a larger framework. Open data provide communities of all sizes with the ability to map the interactions that occur within our economy on a daily basis and more accurately understand the relationships that we develop with companies. 

In Paris, Artists Turn Ad Spaces Into Climate Change Protests

by Mia Fichman

    On a day notoriously dubbed, Black Friday, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean and away from the stampedes flooding the retail stores of America, a British activist group, Brandalism, replaced 600 Parisian billboards with those containing a slightly more transparent and snarky message. “They are meant to very publicly call out the corporate sponsors of the United Nations’ COP21 Paris Climate Conference for their less than eco-friendly practices.”1 Front and center in these revamped ads were companies like Volkswagen and Exxon-Mobile both notorious for being caught causing significant harm to the environment. One poster posing as an Volkswagen advertisement snidely remarks, “We're sorry that we got caught. Now that we've been caught, we're trying to make you think we care about the environment. But we're not the only ones."

    “We are taking their spaces back because we want to challenge the role advertising plays in promoting unsustainable consumerism," an artist participating in this display explained. ”Because the advertising industry force feeds our desires for products created from fossil fuels, they are intimately connected to causing climate change. As is the case with the climate talks and their corporate sponsored events, outdoor advertising ensures that those with the most amount of money are able to ensure that their voices get heard above all else.”

    Advertising, is indeed based on the the desire to sell goods and services to consumers. A company’s bottom line will always be profits. Therefore, any marketing campaign saying other wise is simply an insult to the consumer’s intelligence. It is not a matter of stopping all consumption. Whether we like it or not our world is almost exclusively run on the tenants of capitalism. Therefore, it is the job of the consumer to be educated. To read between the lines, and take these corporations at face value. And hopefully in doing so, the average consumer can begin to make decisions that benefit the future of environment not degrade it. As one of Brandalism’s mock ads on the airline, AirFrance, states, “Tackling climate change? Of course not. We’re an an airline.”

A New Discovery: W3ll People - makeup brand

By Moonrose Cheng




W3ll people is a newly discovered makeup brand I found while shopping in West Village. It’s all natural and mostly organic, and the founders stress on sustainability and eco-friendliness.



Although I couldn’t find much about the specific sustainability practices, using natural ingredients in products is highly important. If you think about it, producing harmful and unnatural chemicals hurts the environment in general. Since you wash makeup in the sink or throw away particles of makeup on wipes, the chemicals still land up in the landfill or water systems. Because of this, the chemicals can leak into many ecosystems and mess up the balance.

The fact that they also use mostly organic ingredients means that they support people who don’t use pesticides and fertilizers, which can negatively affect the environment.

Personally, I like using natural products because its feels healthier and cleaner.

Bonus, they don’t test on animals!

Check out their website: w3llpeople.com

Don't Buy This Jacket, #OptOutside, and the fight against Black Friday

by Aryn Aiken

Thanksgiving has always been a day for reflection, gratitude, and communion with loved ones, but in recent years the final second of Thanksgiving has also become the start of the Christmas shopping season. Black Friday sales start at midnight and many people make them part of their Thanksgiving weekend ritual. While most major retailers have embraced this rushed and chaotic 24 hours of deals, deals, deals, many environmentally-minded stores have taken the rise of Black Friday as a chance to highlight how consumerism can overshadow what they find to be most important in their core values.


In 2011, Patagonia ran a full page ad in the New York Times on Black Friday telling customers in bold font, “DON’T BUY THIS JACKET.” In their blog post about the puzzling request, Patagonia said, “It’s time for us as a company to address the issue of consumerism and do it head on.” And they did so with the paragraphs of text which accompanied the image of their product, writing, “Black Friday, and the culture of consumption it reflects, puts the economy of natural systems that support all life firmly in the red. We’re now using the resources of one-and-a-half planets on our one and only planet.” They question the culture of overconsumption which institutions like Black Friday foster. These sales promote buying on impulse and purchase things because they are cheap instead of out of need. They create a culture of needless waste.

This year, REI took this message against Black Friday a step further by closing their doors for the day and challenging their employees and customers to “opt outside.” Their CEO wrote, “For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth. We’re a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.” What resulted was over a million pledges to skip the sales and hit the trails and #optoutside became a social media movement of hundreds of thousands of people which the company plans to build upon in January.

The clientele of Patagonia and REI are already those who see the value in being outdoors and want to know that these companies are just as dedicated and invested in keeping our planet healthy. It may seem pointless for Patagonia to tell their customers to think before they buy another jacket or for REI to tell their customers to go outside, but these ads, when they gain traction, start a greater dialogue on how we can change our cultures staggering level of consumption. Waste not, want not.

Make Turkey Sandwiches

In recent years, every Thanksgiving around 200 million tons of turkey has been discarded. At our big thanksgiving feasts it's often hard to know where our food comes from much less where the leftovers will end up. This was my first Thanksgiving not helping cook the meal and not packing the leftovers into tupperware to eat later. I didn't get to eat stuffing for breakfast the day after and my Thanksgiving sandwiches are stuck in a landfill somewhere. So if you have leftovers, as I hope you do, try this: make a sandwich with turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, and stuffing. It's delicious and you won't regret it.

Read more about the negative impacts of Turkey Day food waste here.

Thoughts on Thanksgiving


Davis: It was a feast. 30 folks among family and friends. Catered turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots... I was slobbering over the plates. Where'd it all come from? Where'd it all go? We ate everything so quickly, I'm not sure. We had fun, but who knows at what cost? To what else should we give Thanks?!

Tessa: I'm spending this Thanksgiving in Monroe, a tiny town in southwest Connecticut. My aunt and uncle, their five adopted kids, three dogs, three cats, four rabbits, a gecko, and who knows what other family members all live in this old rectory on the town common. My mom, our dog Mabel, my other uncle and I are adding to the slew this holiday season. We went all out with the Thanksgiving traditions thing: we went to my cousin's football game to freeze our butts off, shoved our faces with root vegetables (and turkey for the non-vegges in the house), and fell asleep before finishing a hearty game of Pictionary. It's always a bit exhausting (especially when you come down with a timely Thanksgiving cold), but it's more than worth it. Playing with plastic animals on the kitchen floor, watching Batman over hard cider with my uncles, getting a tour of the grounds in a go kart - there's just something about family, am I right?

Lydia: I have a small family, so growing up Thanksgiving was never anything special--just another family dinner. The past few years, however, our family has been expanding. Now we celebrate thanksgiving with my immediate family, my boyfriend, his immediate family, and any strays who don't have anywhere else to go. Thanksgiving for me has become about welcoming unusual guests and flying by the seat of our pants to put together a big dinner and have some great conversation. It's always a surprise and I look forward to it every year--especially because I'm the one who cooks! 

Mia:  Coming home for the first time since you have begun college is weird. Coming home to a small New England town for the first time since you have begun college in New York City is even weirder. This morning I participated in the annual Turkey Trot, a 4.5 mile loop around the quaint side streets and neighborhoods of Norwich, Vermont. The course began and ended in front of the small and beloved elementary school, Marion Cross, lying in the middle of Norwich, between the white steepled church and the general store, Dan and Whits. Several weeks from now, when temperatures have consistently dropped below freezing, and the snow has white washed all of the surroundings, a make-shift ice rink will be constructed with nothing more than a tarp and hose. There, children will play hockey during recess with donated skates and weathered sticks. High schoolers will stop by after school to play a quick game, and a man will replenish the battered ice each week with fresh water. 

I have always been cynical about the holidays. I don’t enjoy the awkward family gatherings, especially since my parents have gotten divorced. Unfortunately, the cliched idiom,absence makes the heart grow fonder, does seem to be very apt. Being once again immersed in this tight nit community, in which I had been so desperate to leave only several months ago, I feel a sense of security I hadn’t realized I had been lacking in New York. By security I don’t mean physical safety, though I suppose there is more of that as well, but rather emotional security. Thanksgiving may be known as the holiday where Americans engorge themselves in food, watch football, fight with their relatives and rejoice in excessive and frantic consumerism the next day, but for me, coming home for the first time since I have begun college, it is this sense of security which stands out amongst these traditions. While participating in the Turkey Trot, I recognized the faces of friends and neighbors, acquaintances and strangers. During dinner, surrounded by my family and friends, and despite my general indifference towards turkey and stuffing, I could not help but rejoice in the familiarity of my surroundings. I suppose, that behind all of the preparations, expectations, shopping, arrangements, and chaos of Thanksgiving, what everyone hopes to achieve is this sense of security. So despite my family’s ample dysfunctions, and the sometimes suffocatingly small feeling of my New England town, this Thanksgiving I cannot help but feel for grateful for the community I have many of times taken for granted, and the turkey and stuffing I get to share with them. 

Moonrose: Thanksgiving every year is rarely with my extended family. We usually gather with family friends and eat Chinese food, with the occasion of turkey and other traditional American Thanksgiving foods. The house I am at today has really great cake. It's sponge cake that's not too sweet and very fluffy! Also, this Thanksgiving, I already received some of my Christmas presents because, well, I'm not sure. I just did. After the party, my mom and I will be going Black Friday shopping...tonight, since lots of stores open early. I am just glad to be home and not doing homework for now.

Aryn: Thanksgiving was overflowing with hospitality as I stayed in this New City without my biological family but maybe with a new Thanksgiving family. 35 of us crowded into a dining room and ate two plates of turkey and pie or more. There was still food to spare. I was full. We had all given our speeches of thanks. I'm just not sure where the leftovers went. When I'm home we usually eat thanksgiving sandwiches until Christmas. 

Thank the Department of Sanitation

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Last Wednesday, NYU professor, Robin Nagle gave a talk titled The Wonder of Waste on what she learned and is researching as the anthropologist-in-residence for the New York City Department of Sanitation. Her book, Picking Up, grapples with the history of waste management in New York City, from the first designated trash drop-off points on the edge of the island to offsite landfills like Freshkills on Staten Island. The cleanliness of the city was at its worst in the mid 19th century when the streets were called “tubbs of nastiness” and who saved it but the cities first sanitation crew organized by the newly appointed Street Commissioner, George Waring. These sanitation workers were dubbed “apostles of cleanliness” but their job came with a danger and stigma that remains today.

Trash is personal. The contents of landfills are telling of who we are as a society. However, trash is also invisible and anonymous. It goes into the bin, the pile, never to be seen again. It disappears. We don’t want the responsibility of putting a plastic bottle in a landfill. So that responsibility is passed on to the Department of Sanitation, a group of dedicated workers, many legacy employees, who do one of the ten most dangerous jobs in the country and take our trash bags off the curb with little to no thanks or acknowledgement. The Department of Sanitation, as Professor Nagle said, was the last organization to leave site after Hurricane Sandy hit. The city relies on them. We don’t stop to think about throwing away our trash because there is a whole force of people on their way to clean up our streets.


The New York Times's video series, Living City includes Professor Nagle in their episode on trash and she also gave a TED talk on the more personal side of waste management in New York City. As we prepare for Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season, remember that our city wouldn’t stay alive without the Department of Sanitation. Mierle Laderman Ukeles was an artist-in-residence for the department and her first piece, “Touch Sanitation” was to shake the hand of every sanitation worker and thank them. “Thank you for keeping New York City alive.”